OSAKA — Members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and other animal rights activists met Tuesday morning for the first time with the mayor and other officials of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, in a carefully stage-managed discussion of the port’s contentious annual dolphin hunts.
The annual slaughter was spotlighted by the Academy Award-winning documentary film “The Cove.”
In a meeting Japanese media described as tense, Japanese and foreign opponents of the dolphin kills called on Taiji and the central government to halt the practice and turn the town into a marine life protection zone.
“Not a whole lot was said. It was a very controlled event, where we had to submit our questions to the city over a week ago, and the city gave us prepared responses today,” said Scott West of Sea Shepherd, whose ship has been anchored off Taiji since September monitoring the dolphin hunt.
“It was Taiji that originally requested the meeting. We told them there would be no compromise and no debate, and the hunts had to stop. Taiji officials said that hunting dolphins was their culture and livelihood, and that they would continue to do it,” West said.
During the meeting, Taiji Municipal Assembly President Katsutoshi Mihara said the townspeople don’t regard dolphins and whales as more special than other animals.
“We believe that these are natural resources, to be used effectively,” he said.
The two sides also went back and forth on topics such as whether dolphins could be killed humanely and if the meat is healthy to consume.
Fishing union representatives who were at the meeting and other Taiji officials called the stance of the dolphin activists hypocritical, saying hunting dolphins for food was no different than killing cows or pigs.
Taiji officials did not respond to a request by The Japan Times for comment.
Michael Bailey, of the U.S.-based In Defense of Animals, said one solution to the problem would be for the Japanese government to use a small portion of the $2 billion it pledged last week at the COP10 biodiversity conference for promoting world conservation efforts to turn Taiji into a marine protection zone.
“Why should that money go to the developing world for biodiversity preservation? You could set aside around $40 or $50 million of that and turn Taiji into a wildlife refuge area,” Bailey said.
The meeting was not fully open, as Taiji refused entrance to reporters who didn’t submit their questions in advance. The general public also was not allowed to attend.
Ric O’Barry, star of “The Cove,” boycotted the meeting in protest.
O’Barry said he was upset over the event’s tight restrictions, including banning major news outlets and accepting only prepared questions selected by moderator Atsushi Nakahira, who belongs to a rightwing organization. His objections kicked off a chaotic meeting during which Nakahira repeatedly ordered several news organizations, including Fuji TV and TV Tokyo, to leave.
Nakahira said he was upset with Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen and O’Barry. He condemned Sangen for trying to shut out the media from a question-and-answer session between the Taiji side and the activists. Nakahira also said he is disappointed with O’Barry for boycotting the meeting, adding he had to ask some media to leave because they broke their promise to pose their questions in advance.
During the meeting, activists sat opposite the stage and across a deep philosophical divide from Sangen and other town officials, many of whom are proud descendants of whalers in Taiji, a town of 3,500 that is considered the birthplace of Japanese whaling centuries ago.
Taiji officials and the activists went back and forth on topics such as whether dolphins could be killed humanely and if the meat is healthy to consume.
Information from AP added